Cities in times of pandemics

Cities on the frontline: Managing the coronavirus crisis

Publication date:
Agustí Fernández de Losada, Senior Research Fellow and Director, Global Cities Programme, CIDOB and Hannah Abdullah, Research Fellow, CIDOB (eds.)

CIDOB Report nº 5

The COVID-19 crisis has unfolded in an urbanised world in which global interconnections between cities have accelerated and intensified the pandemic’s impact. But cities have also been at the forefront of managing the crisis and responding to citizens’ needs. While national governments initially took the lead in containing the emergency, cities have been tackling many of its on-the-ground socioeconomic repercussions. They have reinforced municipal health infrastructures, reinvented essential services such as transport and waste management, reorganised public space to ensure social distancing, supported local businesses and entrepreneurs, and attended to the most vulnerable. At the same time, urban communities have mobilised countless civil society initiatives to complement and fill the gaps in government action.

This CIDOB Report examines how 12 cities around the world – Milan, Barcelona, Berlin, London, Vienna, Zurich, San Francisco, Chicago, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Melbourne and Hong Kong – have managed the COVID-19 crisis and provides lessons to help guide urban governance in times of pandemics. Some of the key issues addressed are how decentralisation and multi-stakeholder cooperation are essential to effectively govern complex, uncertain scenarios and generate context-specific responses; the need to rethink cities to make them healthier and more liveable without sacrificing density; how to tackle the impending economic recession and social exclusion without neglecting the commitment to the ecological transition; and why these challenges make international collaboration between cities more important than ever.   

Key Words: COVID-19, cities, urban crisis, urban actions, Coronavirus crisis


Publication content


  • Agustí Fernández de Losada Passols


    Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Global Cities Programme


  • Hannah Abdullah

    Hannah ABDULLAH

    Senior Research Fellow and Research Coordinator